The operation began with a misguided hunt for Osama bin Laden. Fifteen years later, NATO is forced to admit that it will be chained to the mission for the foreseeable future, writes Barbara Wesel.
A few shocking details about the Taliban's recent capture of the city of Kunduz have now come to light. What was the reason for the shameful failure of Afghan troops, and why did they retreat without putting up a fight?
It turns out that the army's commanders, the chief of police and even the governor were all out of town on that day. Evil to him who evil thinks. After more than a year in power, Mohammed Ashraf Ghani's government has not even managed to appoint a defense secretary. Obviously, it is just as unable to establish discipline within the army.
Afghans vote with their feet
Even if Afghan soldiers are willing to fight the Taliban or other jihadis - they need officers to lead them. But the government in Kabul is sinking in a quagmire of corruption, rivalry and ineptitude. And the security situation worsens by the month. The thousands of Afghanis that have fled to Europe this year are proof of that. They have given up all hope that peace and order will ever find a place in their country. One such refugee, interviewed during his journey along the "Balkan route," tearfully recounted the story of how his father was killed by a suicide bomber at the Kabul airport. "I can't take it any more," said the man, "after 25 years of war, we just want to live in peace."
But politicians in Kabul are unable to fulfill this most basic need. And NATO, which promised to secure the country until state structures could be established and the Afghanis could rebuild their nation, has failed.
In the end, the training, the coordinated maneuvers, the classes and the investments will all count for nothing if a capable security force cannot be established.
But the fish is rotting from the head down as the saying goes. There is very little loyalty to the state in Afghanistan, and the old rule that those in power can always be bought, still applies.
Leaving won't work
NATO is a military organization, and "nation building" is neither one of its abilities, nor responsibilities. Unfortunately, it is being used for such and cannot duck the task. Germany recently complained that far too many developmental and non-governmental groups were pulling out of Afghanistan. But who should be expected to put their life on the line when there is no evidence of any political - or military - will to keep the country on track? One thing is very clear though: The 2014 order to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan came too soon, and all the eloquent speeches about Afghan self-responsibility were nothing more than a snow job.
The success or failure of the entire mission now depends on Barack Obama. He sought to be the president that brought American soldiers back home from an unpopular mission. If he insists on doing so, it will be just as big a mistake as George W. Bush's premature withdrawal from Iraq. Other partners, such as Germany are willing to leave troops in the country to facilitate stability. But that will only be possible if American military might guards their backs.
Some 500 billion euros ($565 billion) in aid money has disappeared into the black hole of Afghanistan - and there is shockingly little to show for it. More than 3,000 allied soldiers have died in Afghanistan thus far - yet the territorial advances that they gave their lives for have been quickly forfeited, as the case of Kunduz illustrates.
Many intelligent analyses have been written about the roots of the debacle. But the conclusion is always the same: We are obliged to help this country; we have to finish the job. And if it takes twice as long again: Leaving is not an option, even if there is no guarantee of victory. NATO has to enable nation building, and it will need to have a lot of staying power to do so.
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